An historic building in Ballyshannon which in recent years has been in sad decline is to be converted by the Health Service Executive into a Primary Care Health Centre for the community at a cost of €5.9 million. The community welcomes this development and preservation of one of the most impressive buildings in the town, which is deeply imbedded in the history of Ballyshannon.Pictured above is the Convent of Mercy alongside the Sheil Hospital which it will complement.
The Sisters of Mercy in Ballyshannon Since 1867
The Sisters of Mercy have played a prominent role in the spiritual, educational and humanitarian life of Ballyshannon since 1867. Indeed they have expanded that role throughout the county and to the U.S.A. The Convent of St. Catherine was founded on the 30th April 1867 by Sister M. Ignatius Joseph Mc Carthy and three sisters from Kinsale. They were accompanied on the journey by Sister M. Agatha Sheil who had entered the convent at Kinsale for the Ballyshannon Mission, but due to illness had to leave. This lady was a member of a prominent Ballyshannon family which included her brother Dr. Simon Sheil, benefactor of the Sheil Hospital, and this early link between Kinsale and Ballyshannon was developed and continues to the present day. Their first residence was on College Street where the Day Centre is today, and they were given accommodation by Bishop Daniel Mc Gettigan who lived in Ballyshannon at the time. The Sisters quickly established a school and a small orphanage near their residence, and also visited the poor and sick in their homes. They also provided women with employment in craft work.
Site for a New Convent
The site for a new Convent building was endowed by William Stephens, Draper, The Cloth Hall, in Market Street, who left over a £1,000 to the Sisters of Mercy in his will. This was a substantial sum of money at the time and the Stephens family also contributed generously to the local church building. (The Cloth Hall is now the location of Sean Ógs) The Convent buildings were constructed for the Sisters of Mercy on land which originally belonged to a local business family called Sharkey. The Sharkey family had property and business interests in the College Street, Market Street and Bundoran areas in the 19th century, including a tannery in Market Street. Part of the grounds of the present St. Catherine’s Convent were once known as Sharkey’s Field.
Foundation Stone Laid 1879
The foundation stone for the new convent was laid on 15th September 1879. The architects for the project were O’Neill and Byrne, a firm based in Belfast and Dublin. The contractor was Matthew McClelland of Derry. Building work was suspended for a period during 1881-1882. The new building was to consist of a detached nine-bay, three- storey convent with projecting gabled end bays, recessed entrance, projecting accommodation, sanitary and stair wings to the south.
Convent Occupied in 1883
The Sisters of Mercy occupied the building on 2nd April 1883. The new convent was dedicated, on the 17th March 1884, by Archbishop Mc Gettigan of Armagh, who had been elevated from the position of Bishop of Raphoe. The Sisters of Mercy were locally to be involved in the running of The Workhouse, The Sheil Hospital, The Rock Hospital, St. Catherine’s Primary School, Carrickboy N.S., Our Lady of the Angel’s Primary School and The Sacred Heart Secondary and Boarding School.
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